Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pluck: Homage to Fortified Wines

Pluck:  Homage to Fortified Wines

Dedicated to Pluck and Son of Pluck
From the archive written in 1999
By Daphne Muse

This urban tale is based on in depth, non-imbibing primary research and a series of oral histories conducted with Spotee-O-Dotee, Willie, House Party, Pluck, Son of Pluck and a host of legendary characters who hung out on street corners, colleges and the bars of urban America.  In 1975, my brother Vincent Muse worked in one of the infamous wineries in Modesto, California where Annie Green Springs, Boone's Farm and MD 20/20 were vented, vatted and “vetted.”

Vince was a pipe fitter at the winery and he watched the daily ritual of huge flat bed trucks pulling up to deliver thousands of pounds of Malic acid.  The acid was used to neutralize the effects of the bees, bird/bat guano, and other vermin that fell into the seven-foot tall vats.  Early each morning as he pulled up to the job, the vats would be covered with about four-inch layers of crickets.  Around ten o'clock, just as the fog and mist began to lift, the crickets would vanish.  The smell, wafting throughout the dense Modesto air, still remains caught in Vincent's throat. 

In the process of collecting these oral histories, my brother Leonard shared the legacy of Richard’s Wild Irish Rose.  Vinted and bottled in Petersburg, Virginia, Otto, the Swiss man who owns the plant still lives there and his letters-to-the editor are a regular feature in the Petersburg daily newspaper.  Leonard provided me with a series of original labels.

While perusing the offerings at an estate sale filled with Christian iconography and memorabilia, a woman walked up to me and handed me a bottle.  The label at the top read "free."  She offered it up to me saying, "I think you can appreciate this." In my hands she placed a classic: an original bottle of Thunderbird, which I in turn have willed to the Smithsonian.

In the past few weeks, I also visited a series of libation emporiums to examine the shelves to see if any of those liquid artifacts from our era remained on the shelves. What I found amazed me, for the fortified wine trade has gone uptown in fancy frosted colored glass bottles with "zip code wine" sounding names that pass them off as respectable.  While brown bags can still be seen turned up to lips on the streets throughout urban America, the folklore accompanying the pluck tales has virtually died out.
Pluck--It was a very good year for naive young girls with big stars in their eyes.  Annie Green Springs left Boone's Farm on the Night Train to find her dreams in the big city.  On her first day there, she met Hombre, a smooth operator whose running buddy Pluck ran a blind pig and strip joint.  Pluck had visions of making frail little Annie a world famous exotic dancer named Peppermint Schnapps.

Just as they were about to get in Hombre's Thunderbird, Wild Irish Rose pulled up and sicked Mad Dog 20/20 on this woman hanging all over Pluck.  Packing her Colt 45 and wreaking of Bullshot, Wild Irish Rose demanded an immediate explanation.  While fumbling to find her hip on which to place her hand, she told her friend Ariba “Come on over and Cold Duck this dude.” In his smoothest “swave-knave” style, Hombre convinced Wild Irish Rose that no harm was meant or done and invited them to come on up to the Cordon Negro Arms in the Mogen David Hills, a uniquely gated community. 

As they entered the apartment, the sound of ice clinking in glasses could be heard and the slightly rancid smell of day-old barbecue sauce and fried chicken on paper plates greeted his guests.  Half-and-Half, Cisco and old ass Sneaky Peet showed to the set lit to the gills.  Tyrollia (Italian Swiss Colony), who can't stop talking about her latest booze cruise, was in the house and had just made a fresh batch of Champipple (Champale and Ripple).  Silver Satin slipped on over from Strawberry Hills next to Red Mountain to talk smack and libate some more “seconds,” the leftovers from other people’s drinks.  They had just stopped by the Brown Derby Bar and swooped down on a couple of quarts of Old English 800.  They came in “Soul Training,”

What’s the word?  Thunderbird
What’s the price:  30, twice
What’s the reason?  Grapes in season
What’s the action?  Satisfaction
It’s so nice, drank it twice.

In the background while Bitta Dog (Ripple and lemon concentrate) was baying at the moon, the sound of Frankie Lymon baby please begging one of his many latest women to come back to his low-down dirty do wrong all the time arms, was easing off a 45.  With tear filled eyes and foggy minds, they all raised their jelly glasses to love, the Gallo Brothers and the imaginary rolling hills of Modesto, the capitol of the fortified wine world.

Postscript:  The world's largest retail chain is teaming up with E&J Gallo Winery of Modesto, Calif., to produce the spirits at an affordable price; in the $6-8 range. While wine connoisseurs may not be inclined to throw a bottle of Wal-Mart brand wine into their shopping carts, there is a market for cheap wine,” according to Kathy Micken, professor of marketing at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI, "There is wine in a box that people are willing to buy," she said. "The right name is important"

The top 15 suggested names for Wal-Mart Wine:
15. Box O' Grapes
14. Chateau Traileur Doublewide
13. White Trashfindel
12. Big Red Gulp
11. Grape Expectations
10. Domaine Wal-Mart "Merde du Pays"
9. NASCARbernet
8. Chef Boyardeaux
7. Peanut Noir
6. Stagger Home
5. Chateau des Moines
4. Martha Stewart's Sour Grapes
3. I Can't Believe It's Not Vinegar!
2. World Championship Wriesling
1. Nasti Spumante

Copyright 1999
Oakland, California
Daphne Muse
510 436-4716,

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